The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced that 93,000 people in the U.S. died by overdose in 2020 — a 29 percent increase from 2019.

Some of the blame for the increase falls to the COVID-19 pandemic as lockdowns closed places addicts could turn to for help. The isolation it brought also was a cause, experts say.

Among those 2020 overdose victims was Franky Ramirez, the older brother of Kim Ramirez, of Momence. Franky died in Florida in June 2020 at the age of 44.

“Franky died in parking lot in Florida and his body sat in his car for an entire week in 90-degree weather before he was found by the police department,” Kim said.

“He could not escape [drugs]. Our parents took him to Florida. He was in and out of treatment centers and halfway houses.”

Cocaine and fentanyl were found in Franky’s body. He was addicted to crack-cocaine, Kim said.

He had been sober for six years before relapsing, she said. During those six years, Franky became an electrician and moved to Chicago.

Franky was the second brother she lost to an overdose.

In August 2010, younger brother Jonathan Ramirez, 26, died of an overdose in a bedroom of the family’s home in Momence.

“My youngest brother found him foaming at the mouth,” Kim said.

Jonathan’s death occurred two months after he pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of a controlled substance in which he received 24 months of probation, according to court records.

Kim said Jonathan was addicted to any type of opioid.

Time to help

Kim said it was time to educate people, including parents, about the dangers of opioids.

For the month of August, which is Overdose Awareness Month, she has reserved three billboards in the community. Each will feature different educational messages.

“I think this is the best way to go with getting the message out. Drug addiction does not discriminate. It affects all races and professions,” Kim said.

The billboards will be located near River Road and U.S. Route 45/52 on Kankakee’s south side; at the intersection of Illinois Route 50 and Brookmont Boulevard, and south of Manteno on Illinois Route 50.

Kim said she prayed about what she could do to help educate others.

“I truly believe it does not get recognized as much as it should,” she said. “Parents need to watch their kids. [Prescription medications] need to put them in a lock box, even count how many pills are in a bottle.”

Kim, 41, herself has been sober for seven years. She has been a registered nurse for 20 years, adding she does not dispense medications.

Growing up in a household of addicts proved hard on her family. “It was hell,” Kim said, adding that her parents are sober and live in Florida.

Kim has two other siblings who do not struggle with addictions, she said.

Helping educate parents is key to the billboards, Kim said.

Also important to her is making people understand it takes many to combat the opioid epidemic.

“It’s going to take every person coming together to deal with this,” she said. “If this saves one child, it will be worth the effort.”

Jeff Bonty is a reporter for The Daily Journal. He can be reached at jbonty@daily-journal.com and 815-937-3366.

Reporter

Jeff Bonty has worked for The Daily Journal since September 1986, starting in the sports department before moving to news reporting in 2002. He's a native of Indiana and graduate of Purdue University. His email is jbonty@daily-journal.com.